"I think of Aria as SotN-lite - a wonderful experience, one of the best Castlevanias of all time, yet it ends far too quickly. If youíre thinking about purchasing it, youíll have to ask yourself whether or not youíre willing to shell out 30 hard earned dollars for 8 hours of fun."
With a prestigious career spanning twelve platforms and over fifteen games, it must be said that Dracula is one of the most persistent videogame villains of all time - right up there with MegaManís Dr. Wily. The Castlevania formula has evolved somewhat over the years, but something about fighting cool monsters, whipping candles, and killing an evil vampire has kept gamers coming back again and again. Well, itís now the year 2035, and Draculaís castle has returned!
This time around you play the role of a girly looking, fur coat wearing Japanese highschool student named Soma Cruz who is mysteriously transported into Dracula's castle while visiting a shrine during the first full solar eclipse of the century. Aria of Sorrow actually takes place in the future, a first for the series. Longtime Castlevania fans need not worry - the change in time period ends up being rather superfluous. The occasional zombie will be wearing army fatigues instead of rags and some enemies will blast you with lasers instead of fireballs, but the overall feel of the game is still very Castlevania.
AriaĎs gameplay is very similar to that of Symphony of the Night. Youíll go around exploring a large castle, mixing it up with skeletons, zombies, and all manner of strange fiends while discovering certain items and abilities in order to open up new areas. You'll collect a plethora of weapons and fight large impressive looking bosses, leveling up and improving your stats along the way. In short, if youíve played a Castlevania game within the last six years, youíve pretty much seen this before.
However, Aria does throw a new shtick into the mix - the Soul eating system. Throughout the game Soma will suck souls from his vanquished foes, absorbing a different ability from each monster. Some souls will grant you offensive powers such as the ability to shoot fireballs or lasers, while others will boost your stats, allow you to briefly transform, or grant you non-offensive abilities like double jump. Soma can equip up to three souls at a time, and with a grand total of over a hundred different souls thereís a load of possible combinations. Soma can destroy monsters in more ways than any previous Castlevania protagonist has been able to - this is easily the coolest ability system to ever grace a Castlevania title, and the high point of the game. Thankfully though, thatís not all this game has going for it.
As in SotN, Ariaís version of Draculaís castle is made up of a substantial amount of distinct interconnected areas, each with it's own look and feel. The rooms here are all very detailed with multiple background layers, and generally look pretty nice. Enemies are similarly well designed, well animated, and colorful. Soma moves like a dream - when I first saw him striding across my screen, I thought he was Alucard for a moment - he moves that well. My one complaint concerning the graphics is that some of the colors used in the backgrounds just seemed dull, the result of which was that some areas ended up looking a little bland. Outside of that, the game sports a colorful organic look that is sure to please.
Great music has always been one of the hallmarks of Castlevania games. Sadly, Aria was a bit of a letdown for me in this area. As I sit here typing this I'm struggling to remember even two of the tunes from the game - the music isnít really BAD per se, just not memorable, which isn't what I'm used to with Castlevania.
Diehard fans of the Castlevania series will be crazy about this game, though the more casual fans might be turned off by the fact that it doesnít really feel like a new game. While the soul stealing system is a great addition, Aria still feels like a formulaic Castlevania title. Then thereís the length. A quick run-through will take you no longer than five hours, but players who decide to collect every soul in the game and finish it at 100% might be able to squeeze as many as eight hours out of it. But those few hours sure are sweet. I think of Aria as SotN-lite - a wonderful experience, one of the best Castlevanias of all time, yet it ends far too quickly. If youíre thinking about purchasing it, youíll have to ask yourself whether or not youíre willing to shell out 30 hard earned dollars for 8 hours of fun. Every Castlevania fan must play this game in some form - if you canít quite convince yourself to buy it, itíll be the best rental youíve made in a while.
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